NSF awards $17.5m in funding for the Giant Magellan Telescope

National Science Foundation (NSF) has granted the GMTO Corporation $17.5m to accelerate the prototyping and testing of powerful optical and infrared technologies for the Giant Magellan Telescope at the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile.

The NSF grant positions the Giant Magellan Telescope to be one of the first in a new generation of large telescopes, approximately three times the size of current ground-based optical telescopes. “We are honoured to receive our first NSF grant. It is a giant step toward realising the GMT’s scientific goals and the profound impact the GMT will have on the future of human knowledge,” said Dr Robert Shelton, President of the GMTO Corporation.

The NSF grant enables the GMTO to build two phasing testbeds that will allow engineers to demonstrate, in a controlled laboratory setting, that its core designs will work to align and phase the telescope’s seven mirror segments with the required precision to achieve diffraction-limited imaging at first light in 2029.

“Image quality on any telescope starts with the primary mirror. The Giant Magellan Telescope’s primary mirror comprises seven 8.4m mirror segments. To achieve diffraction-limited imaging, we have to be able to phase these primary mirror segments so that they behave as a monolithic mirror. Once phased, we must then correct for Earth’s turbulent atmospheric distortion,” said Dr James Fanson, Project Manager of the GMTO Corporation.

The NSF grant will also facilitate the partial build and testing of a next-generation Adaptive Secondary Mirror (ASM), which is used to perform the primary mirror phasing and atmospheric distortion correction. Fanson added: “Our seven Adaptive Secondary Mirrors take this technology to the next step. No one has attempted to use seven ASMs before the Giant Magellan Telescope. They are probably the most advanced tech we have on the telescope, and their success is a top priority. We need to test and validate their performance early on in the project.”

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